My one-on-one tutoring is going well, the girl is bright and fun to work with when she wants to be. There is a girl who is now 12 who was a lot like her when she was younger—bright, dynamic, energetic—but now is having major behavioral and academic problems, we think largely due to this potential and energy going unused. We do some academic things—identification of letters and sounds, making the connection between written numbers and a corresponding quantity of objects—but I’ve also been trying to get her to expand her mind in ways that she never gets to in school. We have an activity book in which she colors or cut-and-pastes according to instructions. I just received a Lego set in a package, so we’ve been working with that. She’s never before had to follow instructions and look at pictures to identify the right pieces and properly assemble them. I have no idea what kind of learning that is, but it’s pretty fun to watch her in this process.
Thanks to a new hire and the 7th graders being kept in school longer, we were able to re-divide our afternoon educational enhancement groups, making them smaller and more manageable. I have a new group and enjoy working with them, but yesterday afternoon my former group cornered me and demanded to know why I had abandoned them and begged me to come back.
A few weeks ago I was shadowing another woman’s group and for that lesson she brought a large stack of books and the kids had individual reading time for the hour. “Looks like someone forgot to lesson plan” I chuckled to myself. But as the hour passed I realized that this is one of the best activities with the kids I had witnessed. As a kid some of my favorite times were when our class would go down to the elementary school library for a period and I would work my way through the Beverly Cleary shelf. Or tagging along with my parents to the public library and going down to the basement, the kids’ section, and plopping down on the floor next to my favorite shelf, where the Archie comics and Sweet Valley High books were. Sure, they weren’t Shakespeare, but the most important thing happened during these times, I came to think of reading as fun and I fell in love with it. Kids here (and in Mozambique) never get this opportunity. The only time they read is aloud in front of a class, stumbling over the words, or from a textbook while they’re studying. They never get to shake their heads and ponder how Gufus and Gallant could possibly be brothers; think it’s funny that Brother and Sister Berestain never changed their clothes or had names, even though their friends did; wonder why Betty and Veronica were even friends; imagine what they would do if they had a magic crayon; giggle at the idea of a helmeted mouse riding a motorcycle; marvel at the possibility of a swan learning how to play the trumpet; or wish that they had a troupe of penguins that followed them around and did tricks. To me, for people like me, this is what reading is about. But for people who don’t have books like this, reading is only a dreaded chore they do in school, from textbooks. Yesterday I mimicked my colleague and brought a huge stack of books for our afternoon hour. One of the boys made a face “we have to just read the whole time?” But by the end a few of the kids had really gotten into their stories. Three of the boys stayed to finish their books, even after the bell rang and the other children left, and one of my more shy and taciturn kids stayed an extra five minutes until he had finished his book.